The Millennial Influence on Retail - Food

The Millennial Influence on Retail is Regency Centers' five-part series that outlines a generational impact on retail health, food, technology, and events & experience. Each week, we will provide a look inside current market trends and behaviors, due to the changing lifestyles, wants, and needs of this influential demographic.

Food (Part Three)

Dinner tables are changing, and the focus on an authentic experience shared through a meal is reemerging as a focal point through many different channels. As this continues to evolve, it's important to recognize the importance of this in the lives of the consumer, and those around them. 

Not only do Millennials tend to eat healthier than any previous generation, there is an aspect of discovery that goes into what is consumed. An increase in food options is occurring at different price points throughout the commercial real estate sector. Upscale steak houses, family-style dining, street food eateries, food trucks, food halls, and even micro-to-large-scale brew pubs are extremely successful. What they get right is the “experience” in eating.

Millennials are turning to apps like Yelp, Urbanspoon, Foursquare, and – by proxy – Swarm in order to find recommendations. They are looking for something unique or special that they can then go and experience for themselves. These apps are efficient tools to gather and process a lot of authentic information quickly.

Even at Regency, we understand the importance of not only physical properties, but how our properties are found in a digital environment. We’ve partnered with Yelp and a company called Yext in order to enhance our digital listings, claim rogue property social media pages, and create new ones in order to track the metrics on how often our sites are being searched for. This gives us helpful insight into activation times and what people are looking for within the amenities, and it ultimately helps us merchandise better.

Given the rise of social and environmental awareness in today’s consumers, being able to quickly identify which eatery is a local farm-to-table concept, which uses paper straws, and even compostable containers, is a big part of selection. Environmentalism that stems from active lifestyles translates directly into retail operation preferences, and even goes into localism.

Many concepts work with this hyper-local focus in their entirety. Sometimes customers don’t want to eat at a chain that looks like every other location across the country. The operators don’t have to necessarily be one-off mom and pops, but the concept embodies something that speaks to where they are, geographically. Expanding food concepts like Mellow Mushroom and First Watch are great examples of this within our own portfolio.

Twenty years ago “themed” restaurants were expanding at a rapid rate. They had a spectacle about them that drew in a lot of customers for a certain time period. However, the food quality was lacking, and the novelty of the environment wasn’t enough to sustain their success in the long term. If you can’t get the food right then you won’t keep the customer.

This has led to extremely popular and sustainable chef-driven restaurant concepts. These work because a culture of foodies was spawned by various TV shows that demonstrate the knowledge and intrigue of what goes into food. Before this no one wanted to see behind the silver doors into the kitchen. Now, everyone wants to see the chef, the process, and the experience. Channels like the Food Network and shows like No Reservations were integral in introducing this to the Millennial generation in their formative years. Food isn’t just about trying flavors; it’s about experiencing a culture as well as sharing it. A good example of this is Milkcraft, whose entire build-out seems to be a picture waiting to be taken.

At Regency Centers, we’re looking for the concepts that will resonate with our customers. We are trying to select the best operators, instead of going for only who has the best credit. Not that credit isn’t important, but a merchant with great credit who does lousy sales isn’t a winning strategy. People don’t drive across town to see an operator’s great balance sheet. However, merchants who are great operators will end up having great balance sheets, so often times the two can go hand in hand.

At home, this generation recognizes the limited time for cooking, and social interaction has been incorporated with cooking as an “experience.” Blue Apron, Purple Carrot, Plated, Sun Basket and many others have created a market that doesn’t just deliver a meal, it delivers an experience that can be shared in the household. Even traditional grocers have adapted to this concept by adopting these programs directly into their stores. Walmart has even initiated their own proprietary service, instead of acquiring one of the preexisting brands as others have done.

Millennials have driven the message to grocers and retailers at an ever-quickening pace that they value fresh, real, and unique eating experiences, even at home. As they continue to become the dominant spending power in the market, this zeitgeist will not only grow, it will evolve. Those who are watching closely are creating new ways to reach these consumers, and fresh ideas will have a place set for them at the table.  

Photo credit: Unsplash